The International Crisis Group (ICG) sells itself as "working to prevent conflict worldwide" but there is one country where their mission looks more like promoting rather than preventing conflict. Exhibit A is their report on Venezuela, released on Friday.
There is a lot wrong with this report — most of it reads like a statement from the Venezuelan political opposition, rather than a neutral third-party observer. But the most ugly and pernicious thing is the report's insistence that "the validity of the election result [in Venezuela] needs to be clarified" and that a "full and transparent audit result" is necessary, or else the government's "rule will increasingly come to be seen by many as an imposition, with unpredictable, possibly violent consequences."
These statements strongly imply that the Venezuelan government is to blame if the opposition returns to violence, as it has in the past, in its ongoing refusal to accept the results of a democratic election.
For the governments of Latin America, and almost all of the world, there is no doubt about the "validity of the election result." It is really only the Venezuelan opposition and the U.S. government that has questioned it.
The International Crisis Group has a $20 million dollar annual budget, about half of which comes from the United States and allied governments who share the State Department's political agenda, with additional contributions from big oil companies including BP and Shell. So in some ways it is not surprising that it would take the position of the U.S. government, even when the U.S. government is, as in this case, completely isolated in the world. However, the ICG does not always do this in other countries, so this report stands out as a particularly disgraceful blot on their record.
The report is so heinously one-sided that it does not even mention the results of the audit that took place on April 14, the day of the election. In Venezuela, voters express their preference by pressing a computer touch-screen, which then prints out a paper receipt of their vote. The voter then checks to make sure that the receipt was the same as her choice, and deposits the paper receipt in a sealed box.
When the polls closed, a random sample of 53 percent1 of all the machines (20,825 out of 39,303) was chosen, and a manual tally was made of the paper receipts. This "hot audit" was done on site, in the presence of the observers from both campaigns, as well as witnesses from the community. There were no reports from witnesses or election officials on site of any discrepancies between the machine totals and the hand count. Nor has the Capriles campaign alleged that any such discrepancies occurred.
What does this fact that ICG left out of its report mean? It means that the probability of getting this audit result, on April 14, if in fact Capriles had won the vote, is less than one in 25 thousand trillion (see here and here). Which means that a "full and transparent audit result" has already occurred, but the ICG — without saying why, in its 16-page report with 77 footnotes — doesn't seem to think it means very much.
Nonetheless, the National Electoral Council, at the request of the Capriles campaign, is auditing another 12,000 of the remaining 16,000 ballot boxes in the same way. But the opposition decided to boycott this audit, after it first agreed to it. The ICG adopts the opposition spin on these post-electoral events, implying that it is the government that is reneging on its commitment by not doing the "100 percent audit" that the opposition wanted.
This part of the report is particularly laughable:
Multilateral organisations, such as the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the Organisation of American States (OAS), and regional powers, such as Brazil, need to make clear that they will not tolerate further destruction of the rule of law and democratic values.
Perhaps ICG doesn't know it, but UNASUR and Brazil have already made it very clear that "they will not tolerate further destruction of the rule of law and democratic values." It's just that their idea of the rule of law and democratic values is different from that of the ICG and its government sponsors: it includes respect for the results of democratic elections. That is why all of the presidents of UNASUR countries met in Lima on April 18 after the election and why most of them flew to Venezuela the next day to attend President Maduro's inauguration.
Lula da Silva said, in rejecting the U.S. government's attempt to de-legitimize the Venezuelan election, "Americans should take care of their own business a little and let us decide our own destiny."
And on May 9, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff made a similar statement, while standing next to President Maduro of Venezuela:
President Dilma Rousseff stated on May 9th that South America must reaffirm its 'capacity to resolve its own problems'. And, without naming other countries, she condemned 'hegemonic pretensions' and 'foreign interference.'
For UNASUR and its biggest member country, Brazil, the threat in this case to the rule of law and democratic values is coming from the U.S. government and its allies, not from the Venezuelan government. It's really shameful to see the ICG promote political conflict by trying to de-legitimize election results that everyone else can see are valid.
Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C.
1 Another 1.02 percent was audited the next day.